“Maine aisa kya maang liya, ki tum mujhe de nahi sakte? (Did I demand something impossible for you to give me?)”
This sole line has all the depth to evoke an exciting thought in me. But, what is exciting here is the need and want for a toilet in the house. Shree Narayan Singh’s “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” is the story of Jaya who marries Keshav, who belongs to a village that has never had the concept of lavatories. Since Jaya has grown up using toilets, she cannot accustom herself to open defecation.
The political authority (the Panchayat) is oblivious to the unspoken woes of the rural women which Jaya tries to emphasize with. Moreover, the men who seem to be the guards of religion make it difficult for her to throw light on the necessity of cleanliness. Under the cloak of religion and purity, men and women sit separately each morning exposing themselves which is also a concern, especially for women. Quite obviously, open defecation is a bane to cleanliness in one’s surroundings. But, this is not comprehended vividly until Jaya leaves her new home out of despair after failing to accommodate to a disturbing way of life. Keshav, in order to bring his wife back, realises in the process that the construction of toilets has been disrupted by a lack of knowledge of its necessity.
The film is made to contribute to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Initiative), started out by the Prime Minister in 2014. Therefore, it comes out brilliantly at the level of social responsibility. Placing pristine environment as the core, “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” is capable of igniting revelations about the misery of open defecation by impressively describing cleanliness as the basis for human existence. But more prominently, it stresses on issues like gender bias, censorship of religious scriptures and more.
A certain disparity between men and women is a debate that boils down to the basic rights of education and social and political participation. The fact that Jaya is educated and her moves are considered ‘rebellious’ is a reflection of the suppressed voice of women in a regular Indian social structure, so much that education for them is seen ‘abnormal’. Another striking feature of the village is the austere religious impositions. It has a Panchayat – a bona fide clique of men, who know Sanskrit and thus, can manipulate the scriptures to serve their selfish manoeuvres. This extends to the broader gamut of government’s control over people’s faith and education. India has had a history of religious politics whereby faith is used to earn public support and that the primary sources of education like the textbooks and the institutions that impart knowledge are heavily influenced.
That is to say that secularism in various forms is promised by the Indian Constitution but is not optimised in reality. In this way, the film provides a holistic insight into the political situation of the country, in general. It is true that there cannot be a big change anticipated by the release of an artwork since it takes more than just that. However, the film does stimulate an individual’s contribution by voicing their thoughts out to initiate social well-being which can eventually lead to a major variation.
Relating the cinematic performances to the same endeavour, the poignant dialogue delivery of Jaya brings out the most basic need of individual liberty in revolutionary glory. Her letting go of the pallu (veil) is not merely a shift from the present social scenario but resonates with the inherent vigour of a woman who can act when she wants. The tears she exhibits are a testimony to both personal and social struggles.
On the other hand, the humble portrayal of Keshav buttresses how marriage is a union of two equal yet distinct people who stand by and for each other, through thick and thin. The couple demonstrates emotions of helplessness and hope in a manner that speaks of their sacrifice to encourage change and its eventual accomplishment. The women in the village feel triumphant when Jaya transgresses the limiting bounds of a patriarchal society thus, providing impetus to others to speak up.
Lastly, the supporting role of Babuji posits the need for acceptance and change in the forefront as no valid concern should be left unserved until applied to oneself. In a nutshell, the writing and direction of “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” frames it amid a setup that has all the uncanny elements of an emancipating society.
By Prabhanu Kumar Das
By Mallika Khosla